Originally, Juval Haring, the lead singer/songwriter of Tel Aviv shoegazers Vaadat Charigim, emailed me asking if I’d like to interview him. I told him absolutely, since I loved the band’s music. Additionally, Israel was in the news at the time because of Operation Pillar Of Defence, so I thought there’d be special interest in Israeli indie rock bands who present a different side of Israel than most Westerners are exposed to via the mainstream news.
That was in 2012. I was living in Israel then, serving in the army. However, I would not succeed in conducting the interview until late this summer. Now living in New York, I bugged Juval via email again about a possible interview to coincide with Israel’s return to the headlines due to another and even more intense and elongated skirmish with Hamas, Operation Protective Edge.
After some failed attempts to communicate over Facebook and Skype, we finally managed to get the interview going, with me sending Juval questions via WhatsApp and him answering them via email.
GS: I read online that you were living in Berlin and came back to Israel with The World Is Well Lost‘s songs already written. Did the forming of Vaadat Charigim mark a new artistic endeavour for you or was it simply an evolution of your already existing songwriting?
VC: I came back from Berlin to a very depressing economic reality and mood among young Tel Avivians, who all felt that they’d had enough.
When I was in Berlin I hardly felt the impact of the 2011 social demonstrations, but there were around a quarter of a million people at one point who took to the streets for social justice. By communicating with people back home and reading a lot online, I got a certain general feeling, even sitting in Berlin far, far away from all the heat. A feeling of unrest. Of turmoil. I had never to that point felt that much social/national unrest in my life.
In a way it was a completely new endevour for me , to write in hebrew, to depend less on the “indie cliches” I had grown to admire, and more on communicating a message through songs. Also, at that point I had only played with my wife (drummer Mickey Triest) and her brother (guitarist Uri Triest) in a band called TV BUDDHAS, so playing with two guys who were not related to me was totally strange at first.
GS: So you’re saying that the protests in Israel at the time inspired you to write differently than before? Why?
VC: You have to understand that for the past decade or so “indie” music in Israel, which took the place of the 1990s rock scene, has been primarily in English; it is in some way ‘escapist’ [in its relation to the] Israeli reality in its need/attempt to leap from the tiny market “here” to the bigger international market “over there”.
This need developed, or rather, was always present, within the Israeli art world. Israel has a tiny cultural audience compared to the USA, for example. So when you are making noisy rock music with shouted-out vocals in English, you can probably expect little-to-no attention from Israelis. The more “radio-friendly” your music is, the better its chances are of gaining a level of popularity in Israel, regardless of the fact that it is in English and doesnt smell/look/feel either Israeli-nostalgic, or Israeli-middle eastern. There have been a few hebrew speaking exceptions to the general rule, but mostly Israeli-indie means English and “internationalizing”.
The protests showed me that the general public [in Israel felt a need] for a local, upfront message; the opposite of music that feels “from another place”. In that sense I was influenced by the sheer power of people’s thirst for an emotional proccess in their own language, about their own culture.
GS: You say that the Israeli public needed a local message it could relate to more – is Vaadat Charigim spreading a certain message? Is it in your lyrics or is it simply that by existing as an indie rock/shoegaze band from Israel that sings in Hebrew you feel you’re making something of a political statement?
VC: I am not saying that the public needed a message and we are that message. There are many needs and many forms of messages, and every [artwork] either has a message or serves as a corruption or distortion of a certain message.
I am saying that there is a thirst today in Israel for a less “outwards-reaching” sort of art scene, and a growing need for a more “inwards-reaching” scene that touches our language, our dreams, our fears.
By singing in Hebrew I feel I am taking something of a political stand within the politics of the Israeli-indie music world, which is mainly centered around English-language bands, as well as influenced by them and in constant mimesis of English language themes and English folklore. I feel that by singing in Hebrew, musically quoting Israeli bands, and directing my attention towards Israeli issues like war in the middle east, life in Tel Aviv, and the specific sort of depression you experience living in Israel, I am slowing down the process of thoughtless image borrowing that is being repeated endlessly by bands from outside the English-language world as they attempt to ascend in the music business.
I feel it is a choice I am making that is parallel to a choice an artist makes to create art that is to be experienced, but not sold.
GS: I noticed that you not only reference Israeli bands like המכשפות (The Witches) on your album [ed. note: track 8 is called “Mahshefot” in English, an English phonetic translation of the Hebrew word for ‘witches’], but one of your music videos references the comic art of Dudu Geva. Are these references made out of frustration with an Israeli public and art scene that, as you say, is too often looking out at the rest of the world, specifically America and Europe, while ignoring the treasures and issues at home? Do you think this is a recent phenomenon? Were previous generations like this as well, as outward-looking?
VC: I reference local art because it is the art I grew up hearing and seeing and it is closest to me. I can understand having US/UK influences, and we do have those in our sound (I love the guitar work of Beat Happening, The Feelies and many other bands, and I incorporate those influences into what I am doing) but I believe you need to find an honest balance between local and global. It must be something that an audience can look at and find natural. This is what I am going for as a Hebrew-language international act. Every generation dating back to the 50s and 60s in Israeli rock music has had to find that natural equilibrium. The indie generation has somewhat – though not entirely – let go of that need for balance between local and global in favor of “sounding international”. In Vaadat Charigim, we try to keep that balance be referencing local art/music and representing it to the world, but we are definately not the only ones. There is a lot of authentic as hell stuff going on in Tel Aviv that is just not getting the [attention it deserves].